Making Space for Change

I’m scheduled to speak at our Early Years Conference on Tuesday 7th February.  “Healthy Happy Bairns” This event is aimed at service providers, community members and elected members with a role, or interest, in tackling health inequality through a focus on the early years of life and supporting parents/carers.

The title of my input is Making Space for Change:

Scotland is a country with ambition and in East Lothian I think we have aspirations for excellence – to be the best of the best – we are good but we can be better.

For me the journey to excellence starts with getting it right for every child in East Lothian – and we need to get it right from the start – from the very start – not only from pre-birth but from pre-conception.

We cannot be excellent, and we cannot get it right for every child, unless we tackle the inequality in outcomes for education, health and social well being that exist in Scotland and are mirrored in our own community. For many of you this is a straight forward social justice issue –  the level of inequality in our community is wrong and we have to do something about it. However, speaking as someone with responsibility for running a major public service – it is also about efficiency and effectiveness and ultimately the resilience of public service in a time of reduced government spending. The resource costs of dealing with the consequences of inequality in our community are huge and ultimately unsustainable.

Report after report has called for greater emphasis on early intervention – and to achieve this we need to change.

The Chrsitie Commission has recently helpfully summarised some of the key pillars of change.

  • Shift towards prevention
  • Local integration of public services, driven by better partnership, collaboration & effective local delivery
  • Investment in people who deliver services by enhanced workforce development & effective leadership
  • A sharp focus on improving performance, through greater transparency, innovation & use of digital technology.

Shift towards prevention

This seems such an easy objective but in reality so much more difficult to achieve.  So much of our budget is spent addressing outcomes for children when we haven’t got everything right, for example, a child placed in secure accommodation for ten weeks costs East Lothian Council £50,000, a year would be £260,000.  Such young people are at the extreme end of negative outcomes but surely we have to believe that if we had taken earlier collective action as a community so much earlier that such outcomes need not be a child’s destiny.

Local integration of public services, driven by better partnership, collaboration & effective local delivery

The first law of corporate inertia reads: “for every action there is an equal and opposite objection”. Corporate organisations, such as councils, do not find it easy to naturally forge partnerships especially when it means giving up some power. We say we do but if you look for substantive success in partnerships such as shared services and it’s much easier to point to failures than achievements. Of course this has real resonance for us in East Lothian as we move towards shared service provision for education with Midlothian Council. Underpinning all of that work has been a recognition that the status quo is not sustainable, especially if we wish to maintain front-line services and focus an even higher proportion of our budgets on prevention.  

Investment in people who deliver services by enhanced workforce development & effective leadership

When budgets get tight the one area which comes under immediate pressure are training and workforce development budgets. I’ve done it myself as a head of service – cutting a training budget and maintaining a teacher in a classroom. Such dilemmas are going to be an ever-present for us in the short to medium term so we need to think creatively about how we develop our workforce – for with out such development we cannot hope to improve. Ideas such a peer support; learning communities; networking; and protected learning time are required if we are to make progress. Such thinking has to be embedded in the minds of leaders at all levels, i.e. “How do I help my colleagues to work together and learn from one another?”  But it’s not just learning from other professionals which is going to make a difference, it’s got to be learning from and with a wide range of other service providers where collaborative learning is the order of the day.

A sharp focus on improving performance, through greater transparency, innovation & use of digital technology. 

In East Lothian we have a notion to become the most improved authority in terms of outcomes for children and young people.  Many of these outcomes can be easily measured, such as attainment, exclusions, positive destinations for school leavers. Yet at a community level there’s a danger that we impose a simplistic “bean counting approach” solely focused upon quantitative data. I would argue that if we are really to empower our communities and trust them to come up with solutions which work for them we must come up with an alternative to methodology that works on a larger scale. That alternative must be based upon the cumulative impact of lots of small actions (outputs), none of which might have an observable impact, but taken together add up to contributing to the overall well being of the community. We need to tell our little stories, and together these stories will add up to a big book.  By linking how people are feeling with the outputs and hard outcomes we have areal chance to making a real difference to our communities.

Don’t underestimate this – to make these kind of changes will be very difficult. For positive change to happen we have to create the right environment or space that will foster and support it.

Being an Equally Well test site has helped to develop our thinking about how we create a space for change

Firstly, the importance of a shared vision or understanding about what  we are trying to change and why – I would like to take this opportunity to suggest that the concept of resilience should be part of that vision and shared understanding about what we want to achieve.

Secondly the test site has shown the importance of being ‘connected’ – Dr Harry Burns tells us about the importance of being connected socially for good health – but it is also vital in creating a space for change. We need to allow our staff from across the range of agencies to connect with each other if we expect them to be creative in the way they work with communities and each other. This doesn’t mean endless meetings and talking shops, but mangers need to support staff to achieve the kind of connectedness that will deliver better outcomes for children and parents. Shared learning space that helps staff from different backgrounds and agencies develop ‘connectedness’ is an important practical step that can help create a space for change.

Thirdly the test site has emphasised the need for involvement or engagement with the community. We need a new partnership between community and public service that is more equal and recognises the strengths that are in our communities as well as their needs and problems. In government policy documents this is being termed co production. The next phase of Support from the Start seeks to try and create that sort of partnership and you will hear more about this from my colleague Ronnie Hill this afternoon, and hopefully through the workshops you will be participating in creating that new partnership.

Fourthly, you need a bias for action – do what you can now and plan for what you can do tomorrow but be prepared to take some risks. Doing nothing fails children. A plan that doesn’t come off quite right is something you can learn from. Having a bias for action helps people identify the often small changes which can have big impacts – that impact may be for only one or two children – but that doesn’t matter, what matters is those children’s lives have been changed for the better.

Finally – a bias for action leads me onto the importance of leadership in creating a space for change – or as I would prefer to call it ‘space for innovation’.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and I could spend a day talking about styles of leadership, but the key thing is that leadership is a quality and a skill set we can all develop – it is not invested in a few special people.

The changes that we want to see don’t tend to happen without people driving them or making it happen.  Those people might be managers they might not be, it may be a parent, it may be a child who is driving innovation – whoever it is they are the champions we need, and we have to link them to others who can help and support them. The test site developed a model of champions for innovation because  we recognised from the outset the importance of leadership at all levels. We want to help more and more people be champions for early years in our communities

Strategic leaders have a particular leadership responsibility in creating the space for innovation. The ethos and rules that staff and community members work within set the parameters for engaging in change. If you want change keep the rules simple, and give people permission to try.

Overall being a test site for Equally Well has been positive for East Lothian and I hope others can find something in our experience that is useful to them. It’s too early to be specific about the impact that the test site has or hasn’t had on inequality in East Lothian but we have a positive story to share and that narrative doesn’t end with the test site – we will add to it and develop it in the next phase of Support from the Start











Community Ownership of Schools Conference

It looks like our conference to explore the concept of Community Ownership of Schools will hopefully take place on the 1st April (no joke) at Queen Margaret University.

I’m working with Professor Richard Kerly to pull the conference programme together. We intend to invite all East Lothian Headteachers, all elected members, a parent representive from every school, representatives from our communities, a range of managers from other council services, key Council Partners, union reps, local employers, staff from QMU and some representatives from the Scottish Government.  That will take us up to nearly 200 with another 50 spaces available for people from other authorities.

QMU are going to try to livestream the conference.

I’ll post the programme here by the end of next week.

Suggestions for the conference programme are welcome.

BELMAS Conference: Keynote abstract “New Organisations, New Leadership – Community Ownership of Schools”

I’ve been invited to give one of the Keynote addresses to this year’s BELMAS conference. Founded more than 30 years ago, BELMAS seeks to advance the practice, teaching and study of educational management, administration and leadership in the United Kingdom, and to contribute to international developments in these areas. The theme of the conference is “New Organisations, New Leadership”.

Here’s an abstract of what I’ll be saying.  I’m leaving it relatively broad at this time so as to give me some scope to include developments which will take place over the next six months.  The reality is that I rarely complete a presentation prior to the night before it’s due to take place.  This isn’t to do with laziness or lack of organisation but simply that my mind is usually working on the topic right up to the event.  If I submit a summary/PowerPoint too early I’ve found that it places unnecessary limits on what I want to say. 

Nevertheless, here’s the abstract:

“New Organisations, New Leadership – Community Ownership of Schools”

Throughout the world educational goverance is under intense scrutiny.  The common factor is a dissatisfaction with the centralised bureaucracy which characterises so many of our systems and stifles innovation, local control and diversity.

Allied to this exploration of the principles of governance is a recognition that the costs of a centralised bureaucracy must be reduced to reflect the financial reality which is impacting upon public services throughout the world.

In the course of his presentation Don Ledingham will reflect upon changes to school governance on a global scale and use this context as a backdrop for the changes taking place in Scotland.

The evolving model of “Community Ownership of Schools”  being developed in Scotland is in direct response to a singular challenge presented by the 2007 OECD Report on the Quality and Equity of Scottish Education.  A key finding of that report was that the Scottish system was essentially a “command and control” model with relatively little autonomy or accountability being transferred to schools.  This leads in turn to a lack of innovation or diversity between schools.  The outcome of this uniformity of provision is that Scottish education is being gradually overtaken by other countries in relation to educational attainment.

Community Ownership of Schools rests upon a governance model whereby a local community takes on responsibility for delivering an agreed set of outcomes for it’s local primary schools and associated secondary school.  A local Board of Governers will oversee the development of the educational process for children aged 3-18. The funding body – currently the Local Authority – will provide significant freedom for the local community to develop local solutions to meeting the agreed outcomes. 

In many ways this approach reflects a genetic link to a time when Scottish education was seen to be an international beacon for high quality education through the “Parish School” system.  Parish schools succeeded because they were so closely associated with their communities and accountability for success lay at the school’s doorstep – as opposed to being “handed over” to a faceless bureaucratic system.

A key feature of the presentation will be to explore how the development of educational policy and practice will have change over the next ten years, as the classic solution of governments using additional funding as the main lever for change will be out of reach for most countries. Countries who can enable, encourage and capitalise upon local innovation and improvement, within existing resources  will move well beyond those who have relied upon regular funding injections to maintain momentum.

2008 Scottish International Summer School on School Leadership

I was invited to speak at the 2008 Scottish International Summer School on School Leadership being held in Edinburgh this week at  the prestigious Surgeon’s Hall.

The event follows the Harvard model – which I attended last year.

Today’s programme focused upon Leadership for Learning. I was one of a panel of four who presented our own personal insights into how we operate as “Leaders of Learning”. It was a challenge to keep to the ten minute limit so I opted to simply describe how this Learning Log and my School Visits programme have contributed to my own and the authority’s development.

I enjoyed listening to my colleagues on the panel and was particularly intrigued when Karen Prophet(Headteacher at Firrhill High School) described how they have moved away from a punishment/sanction based behaviour management system – it chimed with one of my recent posts

The Summer School is a very worthwhile addition to the Scottish educational landscape and I’m sure it will continue to evolve over the next few years into a learning opportunity with an international reputation.

I’ll be checking out the Summer School Blog to see how the programme unfolds.


“The dialectic of possible worlds”


I felt enormously privileged today to be able to attend the Tapestry Conference in Glasgow to hear Jerome Bruner give a spellbinding performance.

For a man born in 1915 (93 years ago) he displayed humour, warmth and humility which would bely most men half his age – quite aside from his iconic intellect. In what was a wide ranging personal perspective on “A Curriculum for Excellence” he flitted through the decades, continents and historical fugures which whom he has engaged.

The strand to which he kept returning throughout his 50 minutes was the need for teachers to engage children in real thought by encouraging them to challenge and ask the tough questions – not just those which are part of the agreed syllabus.

He urged us to reflect upon controversy through a dialectic:

Dialectic (Greek) is controversy: the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments respectively advocating propositions (theses) and counter-propositions (antitheses). The outcome of the exercise might not simply be the refutation of one of the relevant points of view, but a synthesis or combination of the opposing assertions, or at least a qualitative transformation in the direction of the dialogue.

In contrast to Piaget, Bruner has always fought shy of the stages of development and believes that children of any age can participate in such dialogue to make meaning of their world.

However, it was his phrase “The dialectic of the possible worlds” which struck such a chord with me.  I suppose in my own small way I am trying through this Learning Log to explore opposite worlds.  Through the power of the web it can become a dialectic which leads – at the very least – to a transformation in the direction of my own dialogue.

Given my last post about the Dark Forces – I think it’s vitally important that we encourage and support teachers to explore opposite worlds in terms of their own practice and the nature of the curriculum and then participate in a professional dialogue about these possibilities. Without such a dialogue we are trapped by dependency culture created by centralised teaching programmes of study and curricular materials.

School Based Management 1

I’m attending the Association of Directors of Social Work conference in Crieff.

One the key themes emerging is that of personalisation of services to users. The social work field is light years ahead of education in terms of using a mixed economy system for delivering services, by commissioning others from the private and voluntary sector to provide a wide range of short and laong term requirements.

As I was listening to the presentations my mind turned to how education might develop such a model.  It’s been something I’ve been considering for a while but the cogs seemed to click together this morning.

The starting point for this is how do we really devolve services to our communities?

What follows is definitely “blue sky” and might be disconcerting for some but I’ve found that sometimes we need to start from the extreme perspective if we are to shift our ground.

The local authority would set the local outcomes which schools would have to work towards.

Each child would carry an educational value credit which directly related to money which would go to the school. All other current budgets would be rolled together and added to the educational value credit.

If a child left the school the money would follow them – even part way through a year.

The school would deliver – though a contract – the educational service for the local authority in that community.  If the outcomes were not achieved in a given period of time then another service deliverer would have to be employed.

The school would purchase services from the local authority – or other providers e.g. finance support, personnel, staff development and even quality improvement and assurance.

The authority would maintain responsibility for strategic estate planning, such a new school buildings but all other items would be devolved.

Schools in a community could combine their resources to purchase a service from elsewhere.

The pupil support function could also be delivered by a independent unit commissioned by the authority and underpinned by a contract arrangement.

Parents would have a significant role in the strategic direction and monitoring of the school and would be involved in the review of outcomes at the end of a contract period. 

I know one of the major concerns would be the fragmentation of the current system which is building very vibrant learning communities where schools work together. However, if we believe that partnership working improves outcomes – and outcomes will be used to judge the effectiveness of a school – then the leverage for it to happen will be even greater than it currently is. In a similar way the need to engage with other agencies would be built into the outcome agreement.

Reconfiguring services – meeting the challenge

We held a very successful “Corporate Parenting” Conference today at the Marine Hotel, North Berwick. .

Adam Ingram MSP , Minister for Children and Early Years gave a  well informed and committed keynote address and emphasised the need for us to collectively address the needs of Looked After and Accommodated Children and to focus upon the improving outcomes for such children, namely:

  • Raising Attainment
  • Improved Leaver Destinations
  • Reducing offending
  • Improved Health

In the follow up questions Adam was asked a question about the need to reconfigure services and his vision for the future.  He alluded to an extensive vision but focused upon Early Years support and intervention encouraging us to reprioritise around this point if we are to make a difference to chidren’s lives.

In recent discussions with colleagues from many different fields I’ve found a similar willingness to engage with this agenda – although it remains to be seen if we can begin to reprioritise budgets to this area. Having said that we had a very useful example last week when we were able to redirect some work towards early years.  In a meeting with Diane Littlejohn we were discussing our parenting strategy and Diane was telling us about the transition work she is doing in one of our clusters to help all parents make the transition from being the parents of a child to the parent of a teenager (which any of us who have been parents will tell you is quite an adjustment). Nevertheless, we were able to connect the conversation to a recent meeting we had about a desperate need to support parents of very vulnerable young children to help the child adjust from home to nursery and nursery to primary school.

The emerging proposal was that we would be better directing Diane’s expertise to this age group with a view to making a long term impact – as opposed to trying to intervene in a situation which might be beyond help.  Now I know the danger here is that we have a “lost generation” but if we are serious about making a difference we need to move from “trying to fix” to “trying to prevent”.  As I’m finding out the consequences of reprioritising funding from previous areas of emphasis to other areas can cause significant distress and concern amongst those who perceive themselves to be losing out in this adjustment.

I reckon the solution/challenge here is to engage with all interest groups to describe what want to do, why we are doing it and involve them in the solution – without this dialogue the system can begin to break down with single issue groups only focusing upon their own needs and challenging the wider agenda which is to advocate for the needs of all children.

It’s this agenda which I’m finding professionally challenging but the potential rewards for taking this approach seems to me to be too good to miss.

Working together?


I’m just back from the Association of Directors of Education Scotland (ADES) annual conference which was held in Aviemore.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for Education and Lifelong Learning, was speaking and was stressing the importance of everyone involved in education working together, particularly in the new world of local outcome agreements.

As she was speaking I couldn’t help feeling that we in educational leadership positions in Scotland need to work a lot closer than we maybe have done in the past to ensure that we provide a united front to represent the needs of children.  Just last week the Headteachers Association Scotland, HAS,  (secondary sector) held their conference, and I’d been speaking at the Association of Headteachers and Deputes Scotland, AHDS,  (primary sector) just a few weeks ago.

All of our respective organisations have their place in Scottish education and HAS and AHDS do a great job representing the needs of their members as formal trade unions. However, it seems to me that there are such huge overlaps between our concerns, visions and backgrounds that we would have a huge amount to gain from working together in a more strategic manner – particulary in relation to some of the big issues facing Scottish education and children’s services. The direction of travel set out by Fiona Hyslop for the journey facing education over the next ten years suggests that we could collectively make a much greater impact if we looked for points of synergy and worked together to influence, transform and protect Scottish education. I’m not suggesting for one minute that any of the organisations forfeit their own identity -simply that we enhance our impact by forming a more strategic partnership on points of mutual interest.

Just a thought.


Intellectual chat – (Mark Walker is in the centre of the photo)

I received an unexpected, yet very welcome, comment on my Log today from someone I’d met at Harvard in the summer (had I mentioned I’d been in Harvard?)

Mark Walker and I had I struck up a mutually abusive friendship during the course which our American hosts couldn’t quite understand – how could two people who had never met before be so rude to each other? For an Australian he was a decent enough chap! – if a bit “dull” – yet the Scots and the Aussie groups formed an formidable alliance.

It’s one of the joys of keeping a blog that people can keep track of each other and I’m looking forward to reading Mark’s own version when he sets it up – that is assuming he can master the technology and manage to write – two significant feats for an Australian!

Building our community


I attended two separate events today which demonstrated the professional community we are building in East Lothian.

The first of these was a cluster in-service day at Preston Lodge High School. The theme for the day was A Curriculum for Excellence and it was great to see teachers working together from so many backgrounds.

I was privileged to be asked to give the welcoming address and focused upon the tremendous practice I am seeing on my visits to schools.  I stressed the need to build upon these strong features of our practice and used the quote from Natalie S4 about how the Art Department work in the school “They take what we know and help us learn more” – as I said at the time I couldn’t summarise better our aspirations for learning and teaching in East Lothian.

The second event was our first Conference for classroom support staff which we held at the Marine Hotel, North Berwick and which was entitled “Supporting Excellence in Education”.  A small planning group had put together an innovative programme and reading through the feedback at the end of the day it seems to have been very well received.

I closed the event by stressing the impact that teaching support staff have upon individual children – I referred to our commitment towards treating every child with unconditional positive regard – an approach which most people in the room adopt as second nature.  Thanks.